Counting bricks and stacking wood: Providing the physical fabric
Imagine the whole history of the city of Rome played out as a time-lapsed film. One would see it emerge, amoeba-like, from the landscape. Over time, the rhythms and flows of the city pulse with life, growing ever bigger. Towards the latter stages of the film, the city grows hard, and buildings are transformed to concrete and brick and marble. Enormous monuments emerge. The humans scuttle about. The pulse, the flow, the energy, the vitality of the city is constant, constantly renewing its exoskeleton: its built fabric. This is the city of Rome. Viewed on this time scale, the city is clearly a living thing. I could have described it in terms of a giant machine, which would have focused the subsequent discussion in terms of interchangeable parts, closed-loop systems, and the people of Rome would be only so much background noise to the systems in which they are embedded. The metaphors we use to describe the city condition our thinking about it. By saying that ‘the city is alive’, I want to focus the attention on how the city is an emergent feature of the way its citizens interact. The city is a complex system. Cities as networks Cities are more than simple conglomerations of people. If cities were merely complicated (as a machine is complicated), then it would be true to say that a city is simply a very big village. A city is a place where, over the course of a single day, an individual might move into and out of many different worlds, depending on with whom (and where) they interact. The client meeting a patron in the Forum lives, for a time, in the world of high politics, but returns to a very different world when dealing with the bailiff of his fullery. Another way of thinking about these worlds is to consider them as different kinds of networks. The same individual can play different roles in different networks of social or economic ties.
Graham, S. (2011). Counting bricks and stacking wood: Providing the physical fabric. In The Cambridge Companion to: Ancient Rome (pp. 278–296). doi:10.1017/CCO9781139025973.020